BAKU -- A court in Azerbaijan has convicted opposition activist Bayram Mammadov of drug trafficking and sentenced him to 10 years in prison despite his claim that he was tortured into confessing.
Mammadov, 21, was arrested with fellow activist Qiyas Ibrahimov after they painted graffiti that read: "Happy Slaves' Day!" on a monument to late former President Heydar Aliyev in Baku on May 9.
Azerbaijan marks Aliyev's birthday every year on May 10, with celebrations and flowers placed at the monument. The event is called the "Day of Flowers" and commemorations last for several days.
Amnesty International condemned the sentence issued on December 8 as a "shameless attempt by the Azerbaijani authorities to crush dissent out of existence."
"The charges against him were clearly fabricated with the sole purpose of punishing him for his activism," said Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International.
"This outrageously long sentence following already prolonged, unnecessary and arbitrary detention is a blow to all peaceful activists in Azerbaijan," he added.
Both Mammadov and Ibrahimov are members of the NIDA opposition group.
Mammadov denies guilt and retracted his confession at trial, saying it was extracted "under torture."
His lawyer, Elcin Sadiqov, called his client's trial politically motivated.
Ibrahimov, also 21, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in October.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Baku to "immediately free" the activists and investigate allegations that they were mistreated in police custody.
President Ilham Aliyev, who has ruled the oil-producing ex-Soviet republic since shortly before his father's death in 2003, has shrugged off frequent criticism from rights groups and Western governments that say he has jailed foes and critics on false pretenses and abused power to crush dissent.
With reporting by AFP